Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Childhood Memories of Being a Female Gamer (Installment 1)

I've been playing video games in one form or another ever since I can remember. The best thing about being home sick with chicken pox in first grade? I could play Duck Hunt (even though the laughing dog made me angry and scared the hell out of my little brother), Super Mario Bros. and my favourite-Konami's Track and Field.

I loved that game with a passion. My mother liked it because I could get out some of my energy on the Power Pad. I thought it was awesome because the pad looked like a giant calculator, and I could get away with running (sort of) inside the house. My love for games with dance pads or anything reminiscent of the Power Pad continues to this day: I love Dance Dance Revolution (even though I am horrible at it).

My NES days were glorious. I didn't live in the best neighbourhood for being a child (most neighbours were elderly) so it was just my brother and I, and our NES. I remember constantly playing Super Mario Bros from the time I got home till the time I went to sleep, if Mom would let me.

The other video game love of my young life was my grandfather's Atari. He had a massive collection of games, from Pressure Cooker to Steeplechase to Barnstorming to Pong. I loved that Atari, and every single time I went to his house, he would let me play whatever games I liked. When I went camping with my grandparents, I would pray for a rainy day so we could be inside all day, playing Atari and eating mac and cheese. My personal favourites on the Atari were Barnstorming and Bowling.

Beyond my obsession with Atari and NES, I also recall whining for tokens anytime we were in the vicinity of an arcade. I wanted to play Pac-Man, even if it meant jumping up and down and whining to get my way. Often, I would have to request a box to stand on to play the arcade games, but I loved them, even the ones that I didn't really understand, I just pressed buttons.

When my little brother was born, I had a partner in crime for my video game obsession. He grew up to be a gamer too, and is just as obsessed as I was/am. His games of choice have diverged from mine though, he prefers Guitar Hero and DDR over my favoured RPG games.

The game I remember the most, oddly enough, is quite possibly one of the strangest games ever to be released for the NES, or even ever released.

This hilarious game that I have not heard mentioned that much is:
Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom!

I remember picking that up at the local video rental store (it came out for the NES in 1991, after being on the Famicon system in the late 80's and the Japanese computer game market before that). I pored over the package, wondering in the back of my seven year-old mind, who decided to make a game about talking vegetables? I was engrossed however, and decided to rent it. My mother was a bit confused with my choice, but rented it for me anyways.

What ensued was the most confusing gaming experience I have ever had (but one of the most enjoyable).

The plot in and of itself is fairly basic, Princess gets kidnapped by evil guy, good guy has to save her, etc. etc.

The evil Minister Pumpkin has kidnapped Princess Tomato, and you, Sir Cucumber have been commanded by your King Broccoli to save her! Along the way you meet every single vegetable possible, including your sidekick Persimmon (although whether some of these characters are fruits or vegetables are debatable, but that's another post).

This game is mainly text-based (although it does have graphics), with simple action choices (talk, pick up, throw, praise, fight, etc). Due to the NES not having a keyboard, your choices were limited to those that were listed in that scenario.

This game of anthropomorphic vegetables and simplistic RPG command system enchanted me. I thought, if there is a game about talking vegetables, there could be a game about anything! (I was right, but at the time didn't know it).

This is my first installment of a few p0sts I hope to make of my memories of a female gamer.

Mobygames has a fantastic gallery of screenshots from this wacky game, to take a jog down memory lane with me, click here for the gallery.

See You in Azeroth (or Saladoria!)

Why Is Women's Studies and Gender Studies Important in Linguistics

As most of you know, I am an Interdisciplinary Linguistics graduate student. This course was not required for my major, I chose to take it because I felt it was important for me to get a greater understanding of exactly what women's studies was, in particular the theories and reasons behind it.

In my field of study, gender is extremely important. The study of gendered speech and how gender can affect the words we choose is being studied by many scholars. In many ways, gender and language is one of the most controversial topics out there, particularly in the field of sociolinguistics. The question of how to handle gender in relation to language, in particular since language cannot neatly be divided into male and female speech, is a tricky one, and many people are working on how (or if we should) be able to solve the problem of how to relate gender to language. It should be noted that I approach gender and language from a mostly sociolinguistic (which is a broad term) slant, because that is the class in which I studied gender and language the most.

Gender is important because it is one of the social factors that can affect your worldview. The way others speak to you and you speak to others is often coloured by gender, whether or not it is intentional.

In fact, in some languages, the very "words" themselves have grammatical gender!

Many theories as to the differences in "masculine" and "feminine" speech have been given, from Robin Lakoff's writing (Language and Woman's Place) about the special "woman's language" in 1975 to more recent writings such as Deborah Tannen's You're Wearing That?: Mothers and Daughters in Conversation, which explores the dynamics of mother-daughter conversations.

The bottom line of the last few paragraphs I have written is that in my field, gender permeates almost all of what we study, and is an important factor to take into consideration.

The class part of this blog is done, but I feel like I should continue to try to update it and do what I can to express my opinion as much as I can. After all, that right is what so many of my foremothers and forefathers fought for!

See You in Azeroth!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Feminist Blogs on Science Fiction and Gaming

Instead of analyzing one singular blog, I am going to post about three blogs that have to do with the issues of gender in gaming that I am (vaguely) focusing my blog on.

The first blog that I decided to post a link and write a bit about is the blog Feminist SF: The Blog!.

Here's a link.

This blog faces the often discriminatory and sexist world of science fiction- in movies, TV, books and games. From Harry Potter to Star Trek, this blog covers a variety of shows, books and "worlds". I think that this is an important genre to cover because science fiction is often overlooked as a "masculine" genre, that there are too many male fans for it to matter what is happening in the world of science fiction.

It's often dismissed as not having enough female fans, so why should it be taken into account? Also, many have dismissed it as being only a "small area" that is a subculture and not important to the general world at large.

Feminist SF: The Blog! confronts the sexist issues and the imbalance of representation of gender within the science fiction world in a witty and researched manner. To exhibit the way they analyze science fiction, I will briefly describe and analyze one of their blog posts.

One thing to be noted is that this is not a blog of one singular person, it is rather a group of participants that all blog in this collective manner. Many also have their own blogs that they may or may not reference on the SF blog. The FemSF blog serves as both a journal and a discussion group.

Another thing to note is that the blog not only covers Fem SciFi, but also takes contemporary issues and compares them to SciFi events, all the while commenting on what this event may mean or does mean for contemporary society.

Their latest post as of today is a pretty good analysis of gender in Harry Potter, but in order to escape posting spoilers in case someone is reading this, I will refrain from describing that post (but if you have read Deathly Hallows you should read that post it is very interesting).

The post that I going to briefly discuss is the post on the post on May 29th, 2007 about Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. If you haven't seen the movie, be warned, spoilers ahoy!

This post discusses sexuality, race and gender within the 3rd movie of the Pirates series.

An analysis of the Elizabeth Swann character is given, and it helps uncover the true essence of her character, and also, the author of the post gives a few good examples of what else could have happened to Elizabeth's character.

In the first movie, she was the subject of Will's quest and in the second she becomes active, and the Pirate King,and also explores her attraction to Jack. In this movie, for the first part she is active and equal, but once she becomes married to Will, it's all downhill from there.

In the end, Elizabeth becomes the faithful and virtuous English bride, and all is well as long as she remains faithful to her husband, living for the one day every 10 years.

This moral and true English rose is in direct contrast to the other female character Disney bothered to include, the tempestous Tia Dalma (who I personally think is a kickass character and way cooler than Elizabeth). She is a goddess trapped in the body of a human, Davy Jones' lover and apparently Jack's at one time too. But instead of her independence and power being applauded, the movie portrays her with a little bit of if her not being the faithful English rose Elizabeth is a bad thing.

A good quote follows:

"Men describe her as a trickster, and although she loves Davy Jones’ he betrays her because she doesn’t wait for him to come ashore after his ten years of serving her. Elizabeth, however, the white character, isn’t punished for her sexuality like Tia is because in the end she chooses devotion to her more powerful husband."

(Taken from the May 29th post mentioned above)

Basically, Disney chooses the fate of those who are sexual not only by how they express that sexuality (Tia by choosing who and when she wants to, and Elizabeth within the marriage union).

Although I noticed in the comments that there is further research done by the writer of the post and also the other members of the "blog collective", I think this was a well thought-out analysis of sexuality and race within the movies.

Moving on to the next blog, New Game Plus, another sort of collective (although the majority of posts are made by Ariel Wetzel, an undergraduate college student). This blog focuses mostly on the experience of gaming as a female and gender issues within games.

I feel like an important thing to post is Ariel's definition of feminism taken from her FAQ.

"I prefer bell hook’s definition: “feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” If you agree with those goals, then you can consider yourself a feminist."

That is Wetzel's definition, and the view from which she makes her post, which is what I think makes her blog really interesting. There are many blogs on feminism and gender in gaming, but I feel by making her stance well-known and clear, it really helps understand where she is coming from.

A highlight in the blog is a series of posts called: Characters Done Right. The bloggers highlight female characters that they feel the game developers made in a positive way. This is an important part of the blog, in my opinion, because it not only shows that the gaming industry CAN create characters that are female, complex and not victims, but it also helps balance the criticism of the gaming industry. By giving examples of what female characters SHOULD be like, it constructively criticizes the industry rather than just giving no examples of what it should be like and calling it a day.

All in all, New Game Plus is one of the most enjoyable gaming and gender blogs out there. It's well-written, yet at the same time a bit wry and comedic. I put this at the top of my recommendation list for someone just getting into the the world of gender and gaming.

The last blog to be (briefly) covered is that of Girl in the Machine , a "blog collective" consisting of "two girls and a gay guy" (according to their FAQ).

This blog is updated 3x a week, by all 3 of the posters, each with their own individual flavour of writing and topics.

The topics covered are vast and varied, from their latest entry (as of July 23, 2007) on civil unions and marriages within the Sims 2, to the exposure of the "Grand Dominatrix Phenomena" of video games.

This blog is also one of my favourites as I love that it gives three different bloggers' perspectives, and mentions things within games that I may not have seen without their pointing it out.

If you get a chance, check it out, it is a newly formed blog and really interesting to read!!

See You in Azeroth!

Friday, July 20, 2007

French commercials

With everyone posting commercials and TV parodies, I decided I would utilize the magic of Youtube to bring you a smattering of French commericals. I lived in France for six months, and the commercials took a bit of getting used to. They are quite different from the commercials in the US. Sex isn't as taboo as it is in the US in general and commercials are for different things.

The treatment of women in French commercials isn't much different than the US though. Gender roles are still reinforced and the the women are still often pictured as mothers, sex objects or wives. On to the commercials!

Some of these don't have subtitles, so I will put the translation here.

The first one is a French condom commercial. What the boy says throughout, roughly translated is "Mama says I can/I could" the end "Oui=Yes"

I think the commercial is kind of funny. I didn't find it particularly negative in portraying anyone, but I enjoy how the commercial doesn't treat sex as anything unusual or negative, and also, even though portrayed in a humourous manner, the woman is receiving pleasure and the married couple is having sex (unlike certain commericals or ads that insinuate once you become married or attached all sex dries up).

This next commercial is also for condoms...and has subtitles...

This one, I find hilarious. To portray what could be the consequences of sex in such a concrete manner is a good idea I think, but what is particularly positive for me at least, is that it is the male in the relationship portrayed as dealing with it. Too often, the male is removed from the equation and the consequences fall on the woman. Society even today still has a sort of stigma for unwed mothers, especially younger ones. This commercial does a good job of showing that it won't just affect the mother! I found it refreshing that it's a father depicted as dealing with his child instead of the usual female being the mother.

This following one I decided to include. It's been banned in both France and other European countries...which makes you wonder why???

This one (for mobile phones) comments on sexual relations and (I think) personal responsibility. It does have a bit of sexual content if you are worried about watching it certain places (no nudity but shirts off)

That's it for French commercials. If you would like to see more, Youtube is the place to do it.

I think that French commercials are fairly similar to American commercials in every aspect including the portrayal of gender (the typical French commercial I didn't put on here, I figured the interesting ones would be better), with the exception of the treatment of sex.

Sex on TV, including commercials, while not as rampant as some people would have you to believe (most have heard the rumours of pornography on in the middle of the day in Europe), is a lot less taboo. My personal take on this is that by making it okay to talk about it even in commercials, couples and society in general won't hesitate to discuss sex, including sexual health and protection. I think it's a positive step, but others may differ in their viewpoint.

See You in Azeroth!


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Blog Assignment: Feminist Artist: Jessica Lagunas

Jessica Lagunas is a Nicaraguan-born (1971) artist, raised in Guatemala, where she studied graphic design. Her work is a mixture of objects, performance, video and installations to express both her concern and her viewpoint of the plight of women in contemporary society.

Here is a statement from Jessica's website about her work and the motivation behind it:

"My work deals with the condition of woman in contemporary society. By exploring female sexuality, beauty and ageing, it honors women’s bodies and cherishes growing old. My interest in this subject comes from growing up in Guatemala, a repressive, violent and sexist society. Using minimum elements, often erotic ones, I explore these ideas through various media: installations, collage, objects and video performances. I am particularly interested in questioning women’s obsessions with their image and bodies. Beauty routines of embellishment have been incorporated in our daily lives in such a way that we hardly notice nor question them anymore."
(Lagunas, Jessica. "Jessica Lagunas- Artist Statement." Jessica Lagunas Art Portfolio. May 2007. 18 Jul 2007

Jessica's work deals with both the Latin American experience and life as a woman. Often, her work intersects as the two collide (ethnicity and gender) and the resulting work is an enlightening view into the world of both women, and Latin Americans.

In particular, a lot of her work has to do with the beauty routines and rituals, such as putting on lipstick or wearing high heels, that have become a part of life for many women. She takes them out of context, and questions them and our obsession with the aesthetics and appearance of the female body.

The following are a few examples of Jessica's work, most taken from her online art portfolio.

One of my personal favorites of Jessica's exhibitions is one titled “Encierro rosa” or, translated from Spanish...“Romance Imprisonment”.

This exhibition was formed with a myriad of Spanish-language "chick lit" such as romance novels and escapist literature (a good example of the genre in English would be "Bridget Jones' Diary). The theme that some of the artists used was that of "imprisonment" so Jessica related that concept to the "chick lit" genre of fantasy and escape.

Next to the cage of books was this quote by Corín Tellado (of Spain), one of the best-known authors of the genre.

"I don’t know what is happening,but I’m sure there is something going on.It’s strange, or maybe not.It is true that I know nothing of men,but I have read.’—Corín Tellado

The next work that caught my eye was that of “Para verte mejor”“The Better to See You With”...a performance video (about 57 minutes in length) where Jessica applies mascara continuously for one hour, in order to exaggerate in a grotesque manner the beauty ritual that many women do each morning. By focusing on the singular gesture, Jessica aims to question not only the ritual itself, but our obsession as a society with cosmetics. She talks more about it on her website.

Here are some stills from that video:

Jessica has also a few other videos playing on the same theme. Here are a few stills from those videos.

“Para besarte mejor” “The Better to Kiss You With”:

“Para acariciarte mejor” “The Better to Caress You With”:

The final installation that I will feature was another one of her works, one that I found particularly startling because I had no idea what it was about until I read Jessica's explanation.

Here is the exhibition, which is titled “Título de propiedad”“Ownership Title” :

It's a bit difficult to see, but on the handcuffs, the Spanish words "Ella de El" (she of he) were engraved. The guard was installed as part of the exhibition as well.

Initially, my reaction was that of confusion. I understood the general idea of marriage as a type of imprisonment for some women, but I didn't understand why those words were engraved on the handcuffs. Jessica's explanation made it a bit clearer.

In (some of) Latin America, there is a marriage tradition of a woman to take her husband's name with the preposition/prefix de, which means "of". By adding that prefix, she becomes property of a man. Jessica also mentions the similarity of the Spanish plural for female spouses (esposas) with the Spanish word for handcuffs (esposas). Jessica comments on not only the linguistic tradition, but the views of marriage in the Latin American world.

I chose Jessica to comment on and feature as an artist because her work addresses what others may dismiss as trivialities (name changing, beauty rituals) and she makes them into larger issues, connecting them with the contemporary woman. By examining things and either isolating them out of context by putting them on a stark wall or exaggerating them via performance art, Jessica's work invites viewers to reexamine and rethink things in their lives as more than just small things we do everyday, but as part of the bigger picture, of societal expectations and gender roles.

I also chose Jessica because I felt that her work was visually startling. I do not have much background in art, so my choice was based mainly on my gut reactions to her work. I feel that Jessica does an excellent job of making her work accessible to those who aren't familiar with the art world, and that is another reason why I chose her. I had instant reactions to all of her work, which is varied yet focused.

Here is Jessica's main website (linked). I recommend flipping through her art portfolio, although there is a bit of nudity if you are at school (just as a general warning). Her commentary on her exhibitions really helps to understand where she is coming from.

See You in Azeroth!

And Now For Something Completely few posts

The next few posts will be both off-topic posts and blog assignments, so if you are looking for World of Warcraft commentary, stay tuned, I should have more posts up about that in a day or so!

See You in Azeroth!


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Being a Female Gamer for Profit....or why do I get so many presents?

Due to this not being read by just those in my class, I feel it necessary to post additional comments. I have observed being female being an advantage (sometimes) when dealing with others in World of Warcraft on a small scale. I am not suggesting that being a female in WoW makes it that much easier or the effect I am mentioning is rampant.

The part I mention about the night elf and receiving attention from male toons is, ironically, based on what I have observed from one of my male friends and his playing of a female night elf character. When asked, he would say he was a female. Deceptive? Perhaps. Wrong? Who I am to judge that?

My main goal in posting this (initially) was to comment on what can the perception of being a female gamer in WoW. Although the SomethingAwful article exaggerates this, it can be noted that being female can sometimes be an advantage in WoW. This is not to say it doesn't have its' disadvantages, sometimes you won't be taken as seriously or refused to let tank (the latter being personal experiences).

This is all just my two cents and should be taken as such, I am not a game theorist, I am merely just someone sharing their experiences.

Original entry:
I'll admit, being a female gamer can have it's advantages sometimes. However, the majority of the time, these advantages leave me feeling disgusting and somehow taken advantage of, not a fun way to feel while trying to play a game for fun. The advantages I refer to are the attention, but more importantly, the presents and gold you can receive by being a female gamer in World of Warcraft. But these advantages (of receiving gold from male gamers) soon turn into feeling yucky in general and sometimes worse.

However, this aspect of being a female gamer, while it can initially be fun, can degenerate into being stalked across servers (to be covered in another installment), and just generally feeling bad that you, just because of your gender, received gold and other help in a game that, while a lot of times fosters teamwork, is usually reliant on individual achievement. Whether that achievement is grinding levels out by killing kodos in the Barrens till you hit level 20, or collecting mats for the few items you can sell for massive gold on the auction house, the rush you feel from hitting a new level, or finishing a goal, is a big part of the game.

The site has a series of articles based on these interactions between gamers, and some of them are truly hilarious. In the following entry, I will analyze one of the articles and how they reflect on my actual experiences of being a gamer in World of Warcraft (more articles to come). I recommend the Something Awful series of articles titled "The Art of Warcraft" because those articles are a good satirical take on the whole MMORPG and WoW experience.

The first article that mentions being a female gamer that I will briefly look at it is the article "How to Properly Enjoy the World of Warcraft" . As the article title suggests, it is a list of suggestions as to how to enjoy playing the World of Warcraft (albeit a bit satirical in nature), and the majority of suggestions are comical and make fun of the idiosyncrasies that occur within game.

But the one suggestion that they make (in a tongue-in-cheek manner) still makes a lot of sense, because I've seen it happen and experiences it myself.

Here's the suggestion (full text from the article available here )

"The only profitable tradeskill is being a female. Play as a girl. Do not ever, EVER, even hint that you are male unless you dislike getting free gold from desperate nerds. Most players should be skeptical that every elf with long hair and boobs is offering to dance for him in her underwear for gold, especially because the game has been live for more then a year now. Well, you can be a female Tauren with one horn, mange and the name BullBalls and still be solicited for whispered chat companionship. In a pinch for that sword you want to purchase? Tell your group that you are AFK because your period started, and come back to a myriad of invitations to be their online mistress. Mining/Skinning has nothing on the amount of profit that Gold Digging brings in. "
("The Art of Warcraft, How to Properly Enjoy the World of Warcraft",, November 29, 2005, Caylen Burroughs)

Although initially the reaction to this may be to either laugh or dismiss it as mere satire, like many satirical commentaries, this paragraph does have a kernel of truth, believe it or not. Being a girl within the World of Warcraft, especially on servers that don't have many female characters or in a guild where you are one of few females, can be highly profitable. I know this from personal experience as well as observation.

Although it is reportedly not as common nowadays as it was in the earlier days of WoW, every once in awhile, I will receive whispered questions of "Are you really a girl?" or "What do you look like IRL?". I usually just shrug them off, but sometimes the invitations can be tempting. If you are supposedly a true female AND a sexy race (Night Elf or Blood Elf in particular) the attention you may receive can be insane. Being offered 5G (which when you are lower levels can be a small fortune) to "talk dirty" to a male character or a purported male player, isn't all that uncommon.

I think that this really reflects on the role of women as gamers and players in World of Warcraft. In a seemingly equal environment, where the female characters have exactly the same abilities and traits as the male characters, from Strength to Spells, there is still inequality in the way players are treated. Although some female gamers might see the extra gold they can get as being beneficial (and trust me, gold and presents are usually not a bad thing), the fact that you can't even find equality in a place where your character is the face you present really speaks volumes on the reality of being a female gamer.

No matter how well you game, if the males you game with know you are female (in particular if you have provided proof) chances are you will inevitably get hit on by someone, be asked to just be a "companion" for someone, or the worst of all, have every mistake you make while raiding blamed on the fact that you are a girl.

The intricacies of a system where you are both a gendered gamer and a gendered character can be staggering, but in general, if it is known that you are a female gamer (or pretend to be one) you are treated differently, even if you play male characters and are as good a player or better than your fellow male players. Even in Azeroth, gender (in a multi-layered way, even) exists.

See You in Azeroth!